North Korea to redevelop flagship tourist resort, a year after Kim Jong Un ordered it demolished

Premier Kim Tok Hun (centre) visiting the Mount Kumgang tourist area in North Korea in an undated photo. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - Pyongyang plans to redevelop its flagship Mount Kumgang tourist complex into an international resort, a year after leader Kim Jong Un ordered South Korean-built buildings there demolished, state media reported on Sunday (Dec 20).

The resort - once a prominent symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation - was built by South Korea's Hyundai Asan on one of the North's most scenic mountains, drawing hundreds of thousands of Southern visitors.

But last year, Mr Kim condemned the development with the South as an eyesore and described facilities there as "shabby" and built like "makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area or isolation wards", ordering their removal.

On Sunday, the official Korean Central News Agency reported that Mr Kim Tok Hun, the North's Premier, stressed the need to build the tourist area "our own way" to turn it into a "cultural resort envied by the whole world", during his visit to the area.

He also called for pushing ahead to turn the area into a "modern and all-inclusive international tourist resort", it added.

The Mount Kumgang complex was once one of the two biggest inter-Korean projects, along with the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex, where Southern companies employed North Korean workers while paying Pyongyang for their services.

But its tours came to an abrupt end in 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot dead a tourist from the South who strayed off an approved path, and Seoul suspended travel.

The reclusive North has long wanted to resume the lucrative visits, but they would now violate international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic weapons programmes - although the South's President Moon Jae-in has long championed engagement with Pyongyang.

In June, the North blew up a liaison office with the South on its side of the border - paid for by Seoul - saying it had no interest in talks.

"The Kim regime will struggle to find the resources to redevelop Mount Kumgang and needs outside investment, but is signalling it will downgrade South Korean partners and stakeholders," said Professor Leif-Eric Easley from Ewha University in Seoul.

"By holding Seoul's hopes for engagement at risk, Kim is pressuring the Moon administration to find ways of resuming financial benefits for the North."

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